AgBioView - http://www.agbioworld.org
* Labels, We Want Labels!
* Comments on Public Opinion, Plant-Animal Transgenics and Compost
* Feeding the World, Organics, and the Nitrogen Cycle; A Challenge
for the 21st Century
* Genetic Engineering Video
* GM Food vs. Manure
* How Plants Conserve Water
* Information Systems for Biotechnology: Aug 2001
* Genetic Basis of Insect's Resistance to Engineered Crops
* GM Crops Reduce Pesticide Use
* Bioengineered Food Sows Ethical Concerns
* E-Governance: For India or Bharat?
From: John McCarthy
If there is to be labelling of genetically engineered products, the
purpose of the specific engineering should be allowed to be stated,
e.g. "Genetically engineered to require less pesticides", "Genetically
engineered to include vitamin A", "Genetically engineered to use less
land", "Genetically engineered to suffer less frost damage",
"Genetically engineered to resist the European corn borer".
We Want Labels!
I agree with the above suggestion. On a lighter note.........For
those calling for labeling of all foods enabled with biotechnology,
see below for what artificial strawberry flavor consists of:
"amyl acetate, amyl butyrate, amyl valerate, anethool, anisyl formate,
benzyl acetate, benzyl isobutyrate, benzyl acid, butyric acid,
cinnamyl isobutyrate, cinnamyl valerate, cognac essential oil,
diacetyl, dipropyl ketone, ethyl butyrate, ethyl cinnamate, ethyl
heptanoate, ethyl heptylate, ethyl lactate, ethyl
methylphenylglycidate, ethyl nitrate, ethyl propionate, ethyl
valerate, heliotropin, hydroxyphrenyl-2-butanone (10 percent solution
in alcohol), alpha-ionone, isobutyl anthranilate, isobutyl butyrate,
lemon essential oil, maltol, 4-methylacetophenone, methyl
anthranilate, methyl benzoate, methyl cinnamate, methyl heptine
carbonate, methyl naphthyl ketone, methyl salicylate, mint essential
oil, neroli essential oil, nerolin, neryl isobutyrate, orris butter,
phenethyl alcohol, rose, rum ether, -gamma undecalactone, vanillin,
Now, should we write to FDA mandating complete disclosure of all these
ingredients on every product with this flavor? After all, we must
know what we are eating! Consumers must be able to make an informed
choice, right? Has any long-term safety studies have been done on
these food additives? Surely these chemicals have never been part of
our diet until recently, and how can one be sure that twenty years of
Ben and Jerry's Ice cream diet with this flavor will not bring
unforeseen consequences to the humanity? Has the research community
established 'with scientific certainty' that these chemicals pose no
harm to human health and if not, why has not 'precautionary principle'
been invoked to ban this flavor by the European Community? Where is
Greenpeace when we need it?
- I thank Greg Pence, Professor of Philosophy at the School of
Medicine in the University of
Alabama for alerting me to this fact in his upcoming book on the
biotech food debate 'Designer Food' to be published by Rowman &
Littlefield , 2001). The above information is from pages 125-126 of
Eric Schlosser's 'Fast Food Nation' (Houghton Mifflin, 2001).
From: "Bob MacGregor"
Subject: Re: Real Public Opinion
Professor Trewavas' observation about the gap between the hoopla of
the anti-GM activists and broader public opinion is borne out by
survey results. Even in the acknowledged hotbed of anti-GM sentiment,
the UK (and after years of unrelenting anti-GM propaganda), nearly
two-thirds of consumers say they would eat GM food. The noisy,
alarmist antis, abetted by the press, panicked the retailers into
adopting a "non-GMO" policy even though only about 1/3 of the
consumers even claimed they would avoid GM foods (and human behaviour
is such that this percentage is likely an overestimate, once
familiarity accumulated acceptance). So far, only a few dominoes have
fallen in North America (eg. the potato industry)-- in most
jurisdictions outside Europe, the main anti-GM co-conspirator has
The Australian opinion survey suggested that opposition to
plant-animal transgenics was growing. I have seen estimates of the
relatedness of various animals (eg. about two-thirds of a nematode's
genes also appear in humans; and nearly 99% of chimp and human genes
are shared). If we assume that in some dim, distant time, animals and
plants shared a common ancestor, then they should still have some
common heredity (ie some "animal" genes are already in plants-- or
vice versa). What I would like to know is what the degree of
relatedness is between plants and animals stated as percent of genes
shared between the two-- presumably this percentage would differ by
animal phyllum....? My thanks to any who can answer this question
From: "terry hopkin"
Subject: Who is Telling?
I have in recent weeks heard all sorts of claims for the benefits of
Organic Food, perhaps many of them are true, I hope so -for the price
we may have to pay is higher than we think!
Heavy metals! Manure and compost if no control of source material can
and do put heavy metals into the soil, with same long term effects as
any other source (such as a smelting plant etc). Regular spreading of
manure with heavy metal content can get the soil to unacceptable
levels within 20 years (up time) and take hundreds to thousands of
years to return to safe levels (depends on metal). Why the worry?
There is an increasing belief amongst some organic farmers that so
long as one can define something as manure or compost one doesn't need
to worry about the source. Household waste may well produce a fine
soil, but to date very little research has been done to find out heavy
metal content of the finished product. Animals treated with various
medicines give a manure that still contains traces of the medicines.
Cows and sheep often are given supplements which contain metals, these
also pass through into the manure. Phosphates from manure spreading
are already destroying estuary wild life. The metals will filter down
later I expect. I hope I am wrong, but if we do not watch just what we
chuck on the soil, we may find ourselves in a worse mess than anything
seen since DDT.
From: "Kershen, Drew L"
Subject: Feeding the World, Organics, and the Nitrogen Cycle
Recently the statement was made on this list serve that organice
production could feed the world and do so better than agricultural
biotechnology. I quote from Vaclav Smil, "Enriching The Earth: Fritz
Haber, Carl Bosch, And The Transformation Of World Food Production
(Mit Press 2001)."
p. 155: "As shown in chapter 2, intensification of inputs through
organic recycling and planting of nitrogen-fixing legumes is limited
by the availability of recyclable crop residues and animal wastes and
by the extent of land than can be devoted to green manures. Only the
most intensive, and hence spatially restricted, forms of traditional
agriculture could have supplied more than 200 kg N/ha. No cropping
based on residue and manure recycling, on rotations of cereals with
legumes, and on planting of green manures could provide a regular
supply of more than 200 kg N/ha over extensive areas."
p. 160: "The range of our dependence on the Haber-Bosch synthesis of
ammonia thus is as follows: for about 40% of humanity it now provides
the very means of survival; only half as many people as are alive
today could be supplied by prefertilizer agriculture with very basic,
overwhelmingly vegetarian diets; and prefertilizer farming could
provide today's average diets to only about 40% of the existing
population. "The only way this global dependence on nitrogen
fertilizer could be lowered would be to adopt an unprecedented degree
of sharing and restraint. Because the world's mean daily protein suppy
of nearly 75 g/capita is well above the needed minimum, equitable
distribution of available food among the planet's 6 billion people
content to subsist on frugal, but adequte, diets would provide enough
protein even if the global food harvest were to be some 10% lower than
they are today.
"In such a world the populations of affluent countries would have to
reduce their meat consumption as hundreds of millions of people would
have to revert to simpler diets containing more cereals and legumes.
Needless to say, the chances of this dietary transformation, running
directly against the long-term trend of global nutritional
transitions, are extremely slim. But even in such an altruistic and
frugal world ammonia synthesis would still have to supply at leat 1/3
of all nitrogen assimilated by the global food harvest!
"A much more persuasive case regarding the future nitrogen needs would
demand just the opposite: an effort should be made to increase the
dependence on fertilizer nitrogen as fast as possible. The only way to
eliminate the existing stunting and malnutrition caused by protein
shortages among hundreds of millions of disadvantaged rural
inhabitants and the poorest urban dwellers in low-income countries is,
in the absence of any altruistic sharing, to increase global food
production. On the other hand, the Western nations, using roughly 2/3
of their cereal and leguminous grain output to feed domestic animals,
could easily reduce their dependence on synthetic fertilizers by
significantly lowering their high consumption of meat and dairy foods
without compromising the nutritional adequacy of their food supplies."
Other chapters of Professor Smil's book establish that informed
scientists and policy makers have known about the limitations imposed
by the nitrogen cycle upon food production since 1890. In other words,
we have known about the need for ammonia-based fertilizers and the
survival dependence of populations upon synthetic fertilizers for more
than 110 years. These scientific facts are not going to change to fit
anybody's (mine included) ideology. As a conclusion, organic
agriculture can feed the world's population if no additonal people are
added to the population and if between 33% and 60% of the present
population die (depending on the diet of the population).
Professor Smil is (if my information is correct) a Professor of the
History of Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He is a written several books about the
History of Chemistry.
Note From Prakash:
Vaclav Smil is Distinguished Professor of Geography at the University
of Manitoba, Canada. He is also the author of "Feeding the World: A
Challenge for the Twenty-First Century". See below for book description.
"This book addresses the question of how we can best feed the ten
billion or so people who will likely inhabit the Earth by the middle
of the twenty-first century. He asks whether human ingenuity can
produce enough food to support healthy and vigorous lives for all
these people without irreparably damaging the integrity of the biosphere.
What makes this book different from other books on the world food
situation is its consideration of the complete food cycle, from
agriculture to post-harvest losses and processing to eating and
discarding. Taking a scientific approach, Smil espouses neither the
catastrophic view that widespread starvation is imminent nor the
cornucopian view that welcomes large population increases as the
source of endless human inventiveness. He shows how we can make more
effective use of current resources and suggests that if we increase
farming efficiency, reduce waste, and transform our diets, future
needs may not be as great as we anticipate.
Smil's message is that the prospects may not be as bright as we would
like, but the outlook is hardly disheartening. Although inaction, late
action, or misplaced emphasis may bring future troubles, we have the
tools to steer a more efficient course. There are no insurmountable
biophysical reasons we cannot feed humanity in the decades to come
while easing the burden that modern agriculture puts on the biosphere."
Subject: Genetic Engineering Video
There appear to be three main types of opponent of the application of
genetic engineering to agriculture in Britain (and no doubt
elsewhere). There are those who have a vested interest, and this
includes many involved not only in organic food production but also in
its sale. Then there are those whose opposition is "spiritual"
believing that meddling with Nature is wrong (although meddling with
Nature when this involves their own health is usually seen as
acceptable). I have found that there is little point in debating the
use of GMOs with either of these groups. But finally there are those
who oppose the use of GMOs simply because they don't understand what
is involved. Distrust of the unfamiliar is no doubt a successful
recipe for survival, and so I do not criticise this stand. I have
therefore long held the belief that those of us who understand the
processes involved in genetic engineering have a "duty" to explain
what is involved in simple terms accessible to those with no
scientific knowledge, so that their opinions can be better informed.
Consequently I frequently talk to lay audiences about genetic
engineering and find that it is easy to get the basic concepts
involved over, notwithstanding their lack of science. As a result,
typical feedback is "....now that I understand what is involved, I see
that a lot of what I have heard and read was largely rubbish".
My friend and colleague, Enzo Russo and I, appreciating this
situation, set out to write a book explaining genetic engineering to
non-scientists. We published "Genetic Engineering. Dreams and
Nightmares" in 1995. The current edition, revised in 1998, is
available in paperback from Oxford University Press (ISBN 0 19 262925
5). The book has been translated into French (Genie genetique. Reves
et cauchemars, ISBN 2-88074-304-4) and Spanish (Ingenieria genetica.
Suenos y pesadillas. ISBN 84-206-7944-5).
More recently I perceived a different need (we freely admit that the
book is heavy going for all but the most committed lay person) and so
I have now produced a video of the same name, with a great deal of
help from Peter Coltman, Head of Television Production & Training at
the University of Leeds. The video was produced principally with older
high school students in mind, and is aimed at all disciplines (in the
UK such students pursue a general studies program). It is however
equally suitable for adult lay audiences.
The video is in three episodes and lasts a total of 47 minutes.
Episode 1 covers what is DNA and what does it do. Episode 2 deals with
how genetic engineering is carried out. In the third episode, which is
somewhat longer, I deal with the present and possible future uses of
genetic engineering, the risks that might be involved and how these
need to be balanced against benefits. My examples cover agriculture,
food production, medicine and forensic science. You will gather from
this that my treatment cannot be in depth but I hope that I have not
trivialised the subject.
You can see how Leeds University markets the video by going to:
http://mediant.leeds.ac.uk/vtcatalogue/ (pull down Menu, Select
Science and again select SDAN001V GENETIC ENGINEERING - DREAMS &
(Note from Prakash: North American readers: confirm availability of
NTSC video format before ordering)
So far, I believe we have sold about 300 tapes since its launch in the
Spring. . Production of the video was supported in part by the UK
Genetics Society and the UK Life Sciences Committee, both of whom were
anxious because debate on GE in the UK is so ill-informed.
Since the intention of the video was to give people enough knowledge
to allow them to make up their own minds about GE, I and one of my
final year undergraduate students, Catherine Higgins, have run a small
research project using pupils from local schools. Catherine got pupils
to fill in the same questionnaire before and after seeing the video.
The questionnaire was designed to investigate both the knowledge and
attitude of pupils towards genetic engineering, and gave the
opportunity for respondents to agree, disagree or not to commit
themselves to a series of statements. I was relieved to find that the
video increased substantially knowledge of genetic engineering, but we
were also pleased to find that it achieved its intended purpose of
allowing more informed decision making, with respondents moving from
"don't know" to either agreeing or disagreeing with questions relating
Sample responses relevant to GMOs and agriculture are:
"(Genetically engineered) pest resistance genes could insert into
humans who eat the crops"
Agree; before 40%; after 34%
Disagree; before 23%; after 38%
Don't know; before 37%; after 28%
"Pest resistant crops will benefit many people"
Agree; before 54%; after 72%
Disagree; before 19%; after 10%
Don't know; before 28%; after 18%
"I would choose for my family and myself to consume these plants
(i.e. plant engineered to be pest resistant"
Agree; before 19%; after 44%:
Disagree; before 40%; after 25%
Don't know; before 40%; after 34%
No doubt the fact that more respondents thought that genetic
engineering was beneficial after seeing the video, rather than
dangerous, will be interpreted by opponents as bias in the video, but
I do not believe that this is a valid criticism.
- David Cove, Professor of Genetics, Centre for Plant Sciences,
University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT
GM Food vs. Manure
Editorial, National Post August 2, 2001
A long list of organizations -- among them the National Farmers Union,
the Council of Canadians, the Saskatchewan Organic Directorate, the
Canadian Health Coalition and the Canadian Wheat Board -- demand that
Ottawa end its experimental planting of genetically modified wheat. A
representative from Greenpeace, which opposes all genetically modified
foods, declared that these crops are "pollutants" and that "the
genetic modification of a staple crop such as wheat is especially
If such Luddite anxieties are to become federal policy, then we had
better also undo the past century of Canadian agriculture, and perhaps
the three before that just to be safe. The hard red spring wheat that
dominated cereal crops in northern countries throughout the 20th
century, and which made possible the settlement of the North American
bread basket is itself a human invention, the result of crossbreeding
a high-yielding Canadian strain with a hearty one from India in the
early 1900s. In fact, if they want to be real biopurists, Greenpeace
and its confreres may also consider advocating the removal of wheat
from the continent altogether.
It is native only to southwest Asia, and was introduced to Canada no
earlier than 1605. Since then, its genetic composition has undergone
dozens of man-made modifications. Just think of the untold
"environmental catastrophes" (to use a favourite Greenpeace phrase)
this evolution must have wreaked on native grasses. But we do not
expect Greenpeace or its anti-tech allies will have much patience with
this reductio ad absurdum appeal. Their campaign against progress --
the character of which is embodied in the magnificent propaganda word
"frankenfood" -- is based on ignorance, fear and falsehood. For two
years, study after study has shown that insect-resistant genetically
modified corn (known as Bt corn) does not, as environmental
scaremongers claim, threaten the monarch butterfly. Yet, on the
strength of an erroneous 1999 report that concluded otherwise, the
monarch remains a powerful symbol and rallying point for the anti-GM
moment. Truth is the first casualty of an organic diet.
The Green Revolution of the 1960s, which increased grain production in
India six-fold, was the result of crossbreeding plants to create new
strains that exhibited the desirable qualities of both parent species.
Genetic engineering not only speeds up the process, it permits
scientists to borrow desirable genes from a wider range of organisms.
The primary beneficiaries will be the world's poor. GM rice will help
prevent Vitamin-A deficiency, a condition that every year causes
hundreds of thousands of people in the Third World to go blind. Other
GM products will permit crops to resist drought, floods and harsh
soil. In the future, vaccines will be delivered with bananas and
potatoes. Enemies of genetically modified crops have become so
engrossed in their subMarxist theories of corporate conspiracy that
they dismiss all of these advances. They want to destroy the
technologies of the new green revolution, and they regard the
impoverishment and continued suffering of millions of poor people
around the world as an acceptable level of collateral damage.
How Plants Conserve Water
Applied Genetics News; July 31, 2001
Scientists from the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) have
deciphered the chemical signaling mechanism that allows plants to
close their stomata-the tiny pores in leaves through which gases and
water vapor flow during photosynthesis and respiration-for extended
"Much of the land used for agriculture is not irrigated because water
is either unavailable or too expensive," says Julian I. Schroeder, a
professor of biology at UCSD who headed the research team. "So if
crops can be engineered to respond to droughts by more rapidly and
effectively closing their stomatal pores, where 95% of the water loss
in plants occurs, they could better survive drought periods by
conserving water until the next rain hits. The commercial impact would
The scientists discovered that specialized cells in the leaves called
guard cells that surround each pore, or stoma, tune in to the
frequency of calcium oscillations in the cell. When these oscillations
of calcium concentrations in the cell are at just the right frequency,
the scientists discovered, the guard cells respond by closing the
stomata for extended periods. When the oscillations are not at the
right frequency, the stomata-which initially close in response to
elevations in calcium-reopen within an hour. The UCSD scientists were
able to crack the calcium code by conducting a series of experiments
on a normal and a mutant form of the common laboratory plant, Arabidopsis.
The researchers showed that elevated calcium concentrations in the
guard cells of normal plants produced short-term closures of the
stomata for less than an hour. But long-term closures-more than three
hours-were evident only when the oscillation of calcium reached a
specific frequency. Studying a mutant (provided by Erwin Grill at the
Technical University of Munich) that is insensitive to a hormone, ABA,
secreted by plants under drought-stress conditions, the scientists
received further confirmation of the calcium-oscillation frequency
required for long-term closures of stomata.
One effect of the mutant's insensitivity to the drought-stress hormone
is that it produces rapid calcium oscillations, far too rapid to
stimulate the guard cells to close. But by experimentally slowing down
the calcium oscillations in the mutant to the same frequency at which
normal Arabidopsis close their stomata for long periods, Allen,
Schroeder, and their colleagues were able to demonstrate that the
mutant's stomata could also be closed for long periods.
"We don't know how to genetically engineer a plant to hit the right
frequency to close its stomata in response to a drought," cautions
Schroeder. "That lies in the future. But understanding this calcium
code means we can now learn more about the mechanisms that control a
plant's resistance to drought conditions."
Information Systems for Biotechnology
Covering Agricultural and Environmental Biotechnology Developments
In the ISB News Report August 2001 Issue .
pdf version at http://www.isb.vt.edu/news/2001/aug01.pdf
- New Release: A Practical Guide to Containment (see below)
- Emerging Plant Biotechnologies: New Ways to Find Needles in Haystacks
- Transgenically Enhanced Cotton Fiber Strength Exhibits Vanishing Act
- Environmental Influences on Gene Silencing
- Release of Bt Cotton in India Delayed
- How Biotech is Affecting Grain R&D, Markets
New Release: A Practical Guide To Containment: Greenhouse Research
with Transgenic Plants and Animals by Patricia L. Traynor ? Dann Adair
? Ruth Irwin
ISB announces the publication of our manual for managing research with
transgenic organisms in greenhouses. This 60-page Guide is intended as
a simple and convenient reference on appropriate biosafety and
containment levels for GMO research conducted in greenhouses.
Information about handling transgenic plants in greenhouses is
relatively sparse. Appendix P of the NIH Guidelines specifies
facilities and practices for meeting containment standards appropriate
for each of four biosafety levels, but there presently is no single
source of practical guidance on managing greenhouses containing GMOs,
nor on the requirements for building or renovating plant growth
facilities to make them suitable for containing transgenic plants and
Printed copies of the Guide are available by completing the Request
Form on ISB's Publications Page
<http://www.isb.vt.edu/isb_publications.cfm>. Check the box titled
"Greenhouse Manual." The manual is free of charge.
Scientists Uncover Genetic Basis of Insect's Resistance to Engineered
Kristin Danley-Greiner, Agweb, August 2, 2001 http://www.agweb.com/
Genetically engineered crops with built-in insecticides have become an
increasingly popular tool for controlling agricultural pests. However,
some experts believe that using those modified crops could backfire by
forcing the development of genetically resistant pests.
But, a team of geneticists has identified a gene that confers high
levels of resistance in a common agricultural pest--a discovery that
will allow farmers and government officials to take precautionary
steps to prevent uncontrollable outbreaks. The scientists published
their findings in the Aug. 3 issue of the journal Science.
The geneticists, from North Carolina State University, Clemson
University and the University of Melbourne, studied the DNA of the
tobacco budworm moth (Heliothis virescens), which feeds on a variety
of crops and has developed resistance to most conventional chemical
insecticides. ?Not only will knowledge about this gene enable us to
detect the early signs of pests evolving resistance to the current
engineered plants, it may also allow us to modify the plants so they
will be defended against the new pest strains," said Dr. Fred L.
Gould, the William Neal Reynolds Professor of entomology at NC State
and a co-author of the paper.
Specifically, the researchers located the recessive gene (BtR-4) that
confers much of the resistance in the moth to natural toxin from the
soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt). Several
crops--including cotton, which is a host plant for the moth's
larvae--have been genetically encoded with the insecticidal Bt toxin,
which kills all budworm moths except rare individuals that contain a
pair of the recessive genes.
While resistant budworm moth strains have not yet caused damage in the
field, previous research by Gould and his colleagues established that
1.5 of every 1,000 moths carry one of the genes for resistance to the
Bt toxin. Based on this frequency of resistance, the researchers
predict that it would likely take approximately 10 years for Bt
resistance in budworm moths to become a problem if Bt cotton was
widely planted. Those results assume that cotton farmers are complying
with the EPA's "high-dose/refuge" mandate. Gould and his colleagues
recommend using a DNA-based method of identifying moths that have only
one of the genes (moths that are heterozygous for the gene) as well as
those that have both (those that are homozygous). "Monitoring
resistance allele frequencies in field populations will enable a
direct test of whether the high-dose/refuge strategy is succeeding,"
the researchers write in Science. "If it starts to fail, tracking the
increasing heterozygote frequencies will sound a warning well before
resistant homozygotes become frequent enough to cause uncontrollable
Such a strategy, they say, could give researchers and government
regulators enough time to adjust the resistance management strategy by
increasing the percent of fields left as "refuges," for example to
reverse the increase in resistant moths. At the least, they say,
current bioassay-based monitoring programs should preserve DNA samples
from moths, so that researchers can have a DNA bank to analyze other
resistance genes that are discovered in the moths. But, the authors
add, "any delay in initiating BtR-4 allele monitoring erodes the
opportunity to make informed modifications to the high-dose/refuge
strategy, that could sustain use of Bt-transgenics and prolong the
environmental benefits they bring by reducing the use of conventional
Identification of a Gene Associated With Bt Resistance In
Heliothis virescens; Science, August 3, 2001; Vol 293, No 5531
Linda J. Gahan,1 Fred Gould,2 David G. Heckel3*
First Light on Genetic Roots Of Bt Resistance
Science, August 3, 2001, Vol 293, No 5531
Erik Stokstad http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/293/5531/778
GM Crops Reduce Pesticide Use
Agbiotech Bulletin Vol 9,Issue 6;August, 2001
Published by Ag-West Biotech Inc. (Forwarded )
One of the selling features of genetically modified (GM) crops has
been the promise of a reduction in pesticide use. This is a very
desirable consequence for pesticide applicators and other field
workers concerned about their personal safety, environmentalists,
anyone who enjoys the great outdoors and wants to see a reduction of
the impact of agricultural practises on the environment,
health-conscious consumers who may not like the idea of their food
being exposed to pesticides, and farmers who are concerned about all
of the above but who are also trying to run a profitable operation.
But where were the data to support these claims? Reliable data did not
and could not exist until these varieties had been grown on a large
enough scale to collect it! Recently, we have seen the release of some
research results that do provide solid support for this theory.
Herbicide-tolerant (HT) crop varieties, several of which are also
transgenic (GM), were introduced to Canada in 1995 with a limited
acreage of Liberty Link canola grown in Saskatchewan. Now in 2001, the
acreage of HT canola is estimated to be about 55 percent of the canola
seeded. Similar trends exist for corn, soybean, and for cotton grown
in the US.
The Canola Council of Canada (CCC) is an industry organization with
membership comprised of crushers, refiners and processors; exporters
and shippers; canola grower organizations and commissions; and
governments. Their mandate is to encourage the improvement,
development, and expanded production and use of Canadian canola seeds
and products. The Council published a study this spring that concludes
that less herbicide is used to grow transgenic canola than is used to
produce conventional varieties. The total herbicide reduction is
estimated to range from 1,500 tonnes in 1997 to 6,000 tonnes in both
1999 and 2000, which translates into a reduction in herbicide cost of
about 40 percent. Additionally, fuel savings due to fewer field
operations ranged from 9.5 million litres in 1997 to 31.2 litres in
2000. Reduced dockage and higher yield contributed further to the
farmer's revenue to give a net gain of $5.80 per acre. Data from
Ontario indicate that growers there have chosen GM crops in record
numbers this year. Preliminary estimates from commodity organizations
show that 25-30 percent of soybeans, more than 80 percent of canola,
and about 40 percent of corn grown in Ontario this season are modified
to be herbicide tolerant or insect resistant.
Similar data were just released by the US Department of Agriculture
(USDA), indicating that 26 percent of corn, 68 percent of soybean, and
69 percent of cotton grown in the US were transgenic. This represents
an increase of 18 percent over figures for the 2000 crop season.
AGCare is a coalition of farm groups representing 45,000 field and
horticulture crop growers. A July 11 news release from their office
states - "Farmers choose to grow crops enhanced through biotechnology
because of the benefits they offer: increased crop quality and food
safety, higher yields, reduced production costs and the ability to
grow the high quality, affordable food that consumers demand, while
reducing the use of pesticides or using safer pesticides than
previously possible to protect against pest devastation."
Bt corn, approved in August 1995 for growth in the US, represented
only 1 percent of the acreage planted to corn in 1996. This rose to 19
percent of the corn in 1998. CAST, a nonprofit organization composed
of scientific societies and many individual, student, company,
nonprofit, and associate society members, summarized reports of the US
Environmental Protection Agency and concluded: "Since Bt corn (was
introduced) into the marketplace, there is a reduction in use for
those pesticides recommended for European corn borer control from 6
million to slightly over 4 million acre treatments in 1999, a
reduction of about one-third."
HT soybean was available in limited quantities in 1996, made up 17
percent soybean acreage in 1997, and by 1998 greater than 40 percent.
Increases in adoption of herbicide-tolerant soybeans led to small but
significant decreases in overall herbicide use. This derived from a
significant decline in use of herbicides other than glyphosate and
acetamides, coupled with a significant increase in glyphosate. The
overall rate of herbicide use in soybeans declined by nearly 10
percent between 1996 and 1998.
Bt cotton, first planted in 1995, expanded to 15 percent of total
cotton acres planted in the US in 1996 and 17 percent in 1998. The
Environmental Protection Agency calculated a national benefit of $47
million on 2.1 million acres of Bt cotton in 1997. In terms of
pesticide reduction, about 21 percent less pesticide was applied over
all cotton acres in the US. Herbicide-tolerant cotton increased from10
percent of surveyed acres in 1997 to 26 percent in 1998. Adoption of
HT cotton led to significant increases in yields and net returns, but
was not associated with significant changes in herbicide use. Adoption
of Bt cotton in the Southeast US significantly increased yields and
net returns and significantly reduced insecticide use.
A presentation by R.E. Heimlich, J. Fernandez-Cornejo, et al. titled
"Adoption of Genetically Engineered Seed in US Agriculture:
Implications for Pesticide Use" reports a reduction in the area of
land treated with herbicides. These USDA researchers define a term:
the acre-treatment to be one application of a pesticide to one acre.
Their data show that the adoption of biotech crops has resulted in 7.6
to 19.1 million fewer acre-treatments. That is to say that 0.3 to 7.9
million fewer pounds active ingredient (or 0.5 to 3.4 percent less
herbicide) have been applied.
So the next time someone says "Show me the data!" you know where to start!
Pesticide reduction due to GM crops
HT Canola (Canada) 29%
Bt corn (USA) 33%
HT soybean (USA) 10%
Bt cotton (USA) 21%
HT cotton (USA) 0
All pesticides (USA) 0.5-3.4%
AgCare news release, July 11, 2001
Bioengineered Food Sows Ethical Concerns
By Jane Lampman, The Christian Science Monitor, Thursday, August 2, 2001
Whether it's the result of global protesters, well-publicized mistakes
slipping into the food chain, or a sudden awareness of the speed with
which bioengineered foods are filling the supermarkets, Americans'
support for genetically modified foods is eroding.
Although the biotechnology industry has mounted an advertising
campaign and points out that no evidence exists that anyone has been
harmed by bioengineered foods, unease seems to be spreading over
safety, potential environmental impacts, and concerns that freedom of
choice are being undermined.
Several polls capture the shifting mood. A June survey of adults
nationwide by ABCNews.com found 52 percent saying such foods are "not
safe to eat," and only 35 percent expressing confidence. One year
earlier, a Gallup poll had found the reverse, with 51 percent seeing
no health hazard. The ABC poll also found that 93 percent wanted the
federal government to mandate the labeling of genetically modified
For many, ethical issues are as important as safety concerns, and last
week The Pew Initiative on Food and Biotechnology released a
nationwide survey of attitudes based on religious faith.
While the majority of Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims
surveyed believe that "humans have been empowered by God to use such
knowledge to improve human life," only among Jews did a majority favor
moving genes from one organism or species to another (see below).
In a Pew-sponsored panel discussion July 26, religious leaders and
ethicists identified concerns about potential harm to nature, and
issues of freedom and control posed by the way GM foods have been
Are there ethical questions raised by modifying salmon to grow three
to five times faster? Or modifying cats so they don't produce a
protein that makes humans allergic to them? The use for which a change
is made does matter morally, the panel agreed, and it calls for
risk-benefit analysis, said Rabbi Avram Reiser of Baltimore Hebrew
They weren't impressed with the case for the cat, which would be
pursued for human convenience. It's a question of animal welfare,
offered David Magnus, a bioethicist from the University of
Pennsylvania. "Would it cause other harms, and does the cat get any
"Abraham Lincoln said he didn't trust any religion that didn't make a
person treat a dog or cat better," added Jaydee Hanson, of the United
Methodist Church. "Making the cat affect me less doesn't help the cat
In the salmon case, one key issue is environmental impact, suggested
Robert Gronski, of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference. "The
ecological impact would be disastrous, [given] the way thousands of
cultivated fish escape from aquaculture these days," Dr. Magnus
agreed. "It's too soon to introduce it."
A real-life instance of the salmon story is occurring on the eastern
coast of Canada, where a US company, Aqua Bounty, has experimental
facilities for transgenic salmon that it wants to sell commercially.
According to the Toronto Star, two recent Canadian reports warn that
federal regulations are inadequate to ensure environmental safety, and
that even a few transgenic fish "could wipe out wild populations if
they escape from rearing pens." According to the Star, lab tests with
other fish have found that offspring from interbreeding between
transgenic and wild fish produced offspring that did not survive to
maturity as often as normal fish. The company has said it would
introduce only sterile female salmon to avert that problem.
The industry says that speeding the growth of animals and foods will
help feed the developing world. Panelists agreed that some GM products
are a boon, but also that people have a right to technologies that
they can control. In the Pew survey, called "Genetically Modifying
Food: Playing God or Doing God's Work?" the definition chosen most
often for "playing God" involved "who controls the technology and who
is exposed to its risks."
One concern is the rapidity with which croplands are going to
bioengineered production. Questions people have as they become more
aware of the global food system, Mr. Gronski says, include: "Who is
deciding what type of food we are eating?" and "How can we have some
"People need to have the option to make informed choices, and to opt
out of the system," Magnus says. "If all foods are genetically
modified, the option doesn't exist."
All agreed on the ethical responsibility to inform, a prime issue of
debate in the US. "The FDA says it's safe, and therefore the consumer
doesn't need to know; but in a democratic society, people have a right
to know," says Rabbi Reiser.
The Food and Drug Administration is now modifying regulations on GM
foods, but the proposed changes fall far short of the hopes of some
consumer groups, which are seeking mandatory labeling and more safety
research. The FDA is requiring companies to notify it 120 days before
introducing products on the market and to provide information that
demonstrates safety. No requirements are made for pre-market testing
or for labeling.
In contrast, in the European Union, more stringent rules were proposed
this week that would establish a system to trace organisms from farm
to supermarket and require all GM foods to be labeled. EU governments
and the European Parliament still must approve them.
E-Governance: For India or Bharat?
By Sharad Joshi, The Hindu Business Line August 1, 2001
ON July 23, even casual Internet surfers were surprised to find some
confidential and secret files of the External Affairs Ministry
scattered all over cyberspace. Normally, it would require the wily
tricks-in-trade of a James Bond to be able to catch even a glimpse of
these `For your eyes only' documents. Why was the Ministry suddenly
handing over its secrets even to those who were not interested? It
came out to that it was not the bosses in the Ministry but a minuscule
virus, nicknamed w32.sircom, that had got into the Government's
computer system and was pilfering and scattering the state secrets.
The information wizards rushed to initiate the damage control
operations. They disabled the servers in the Government network from
sending any attached files whatsoever. The problem stands resolved for
the time being. Till a new virus that can pierce through this
disability comes along, there will be no unauthorised pilfering of
government files. The trouble is, till then, that those on the
governmental networks will not be able to send or receive even normal
attachments as e-mail.
Cyberspace has become the battlefield of hostilities between the evil
spirits and the good fairies. Every day, the evil demons are inventing
new viruses that play havoc with the databases of all those who pick
up the contagion; every day the good fairies devise antidotes for the
ever-expanding platoons of viruses.
Even the computer literate, familiar with the mayhem digital virus can
perpetrate, were shocked to see the most confidential and secret
documents of the Ministry literally out on the streets.
Computerisation is the name of the current administrative game. The
process is supposed to be good and in keeping with the times. The only
argument heard against computerisation and e-governance is made by the
employees who fear that, with computerisation, machines will replace
men and cause widespread and rampant unemployment.
How could a disaster such as sircom happen? Those who prepared the
blueprints of e-governance through computers could have easily
foreseen a contingency of this kind of mishap and made arrangements to
have all critical files marked to protect them against mischief. It
would appear that the occurrence of a mishap such as this was
considered too far-fetched and improbable to merit attention at that
time. Clearly, the authorities were in such a hurry to get on to the
IT bandwagon that they threw their characteristic caution to winds.
It could appear that they had already made up their minds to give the
green signal to e-governance -- risk or no risk -- and were
disinclined to lend a ear to warnings of possible dangers and to
prudent counsel on the need to provide adequate safety measures. A
question arises: Had the decision-makers not already made up their
minds to go in for e-governance, would they have examined the matter
of the threat of data pilferage and virus havoc more attentively?
One gets a fairly clear idea as to what they would have done if one
sees how those in power are handing the clearance of the same
information technology to provide Internet access in far-off villages.
All kinds of subterfuge and barricades are being pitched, and
prohibitive charges and huge deposits of money imposed, on those
proposing to take the Internet to the countryside. The net consequence
is that the digital divide has added yet another dimension to the
Is there something behind the over-enthusiasm in bringing the new
technologies to `India' and the staunch opposition in any new
technology coming to `Bharat'? Historical evidence, even in recent
times, shows there is substantial difference in policies and attitudes
when it comes to bringing technologies to `India' on the one hand, and
to `Bharat' on the other.
In the early years after Independence, when the country suffered from
an acute shortage of foodgrains, recourse to high-yielding variety
seeds and chemical fertilisers and pesticides was stoutly opposed and
effectively blocked by a powerful lobby that included such diverse
schools as the Gandhians, the Marxists and sundry environmentalists
who had substantial clout in the centres of power.
The opposition to Green Revolution technology was made in the name of
the poor and the landless. ``The new package will benefit only the
rich farmers and impoverish the small and the marginal ones; the class
conflict will widen and the Green Revolution will soon turn into a
bloody red one'', it was argued. The result was that the new
technology was late in coming, and India was reduced to a
`ship-to-mouth' existence. It took a war with Pakistan and the
undaunted courage of the then prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri, and
the dogged pursuit by C. Subramaniam to bulldoze through the
opposition to the Green Revolution. The rest -- India's rapid march to
self-sufficiency in food -- is history.
What happened to those who opposed the Green Revolution in the 1960s?
They are certainly not apologising for prolonging the hunger pangs of
the Indian poor in the 1960s. They are quite happy to be feeding
themselves on the `rotis' made out of the Mexican wheat. They are now
campaigning for non-chemical agriculture. Not that they are not aware
that agriculture in India has been free of all chemicals for centuries
together and that through that period, millions perished in famines
that visited with monotonous regularity; it is just that they dislike
the idea of modernised Indian agriculture and of `Bharat' taking its
place in the comity of nations side by side with the elite `India'.
As with the Green Revolution, so with the gene revolution. The Green
Revolution held out the promise of warding off hunger and poverty in
the countryside. The gene revolution might actually give the
agricultural sector an upper hand over the urban secondary and
tertiary activities. This evidently cannot be allowed to happen! Those
opposed to modernisation of agriculture have taken the government in
their hands and are trying a `no-holds-barred' onslaught to stop even
the trials of the new technology in India, in spite of the fact that
other countries have drawn massive benefits from the new technology.
It cannot be that the new obstructionists are opposed to biotechnology
per se. The application of genetic engineering in medicine and
pharmaceuticals faces few, if any, obstacles. Quite a few urban firms
are putting on the market a series of new products and drugs.
It is only the application of genetic engineering in agriculture that
is being stopped by raising various bogies about environmental
effects, broadcasting effects, effects on non-targeted insects,
development of immunity in the targeted pests, and effects on animals
and fauna who may ingest products derived out of genetically modified
crop. All these apprehensions have been addressed fully, time and time
again. That makes no difference. In IT, the authorities failed to
provide for sircom; in BT, it is creating phantoms of imaginary sircoms.
The same government that winked at the risks involved in e-governance
through information technology and cleared it without bothering to
build in adequate safety measures, delayed the introduction of Green
Revolution technology in agriculture decades after the world adopted
it. It is now fully determined not to let genetic engineering benefit
Indian agriculture. `Bharat' will need to break through the `India'
curtain to gain access not only to the world market but also to
(The author is Chairman of the Task Force on Agriculture, Government
of India. The views expressed, however, are his own).